Silver fish with niello decoration, Palestine

As traditional and nomadic lifestyles are lived in close harmony with nature, be it in the desert or on farming communities, some amulets take the form of animals and may even be made from animal parts.

They might depict dangerous creatures such as scorpions or snakes, or represent benign beings that enhance fertility and health. In keeping with the principles of sympathetic magic, which is based on imitation, these dangerous animals became powerful amulets against attacks from the animals themselves. Very often the use of depictions of animals stems from a long tradition that can be traced back throughout civilizations.

The symbol of the fish for example already played an important role in the Roman Empire, whereas amulets in the shape of snakes and scorpions have been used since ancient Egypt. Among parts of animals the cowrie shell is often encountered, used because of its resemblance to an eye on the one side and to the female genitalia on the other.

Click on the examples below to read their explanations.